What To Do If You Get a Notice From the IRS
Tips for Responding to a Federal Tax Notice
Every year, the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers for various reasons. There are many different types of notices issued by the IRS — depending on the notice you receive, you may have a range of options for responding.
IRS Notices for Late Filing
If you have not filed an income tax return for at least one year, the IRS may issue a letter inquiring about this omission. Such a notice typically cites the tax year in question and provides a short list of answers to select from (such as, “I am not required to file for this year because I did not earn enough income.”) If your answer is this simple, it is entirely possible that this response will end the inquiry.
If you haven’t filed a tax return for a number of years, the IRS may prepare a “Substitute For Return” (SFR) using third-party information — such as your Form W-2 (wages) and Form 1099 (interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and similar compensation).
NOTE: As a rule, an SFR does not allow for the “married filing joint” filing status or itemized deductions, and it will likely omit the credits and exclusions you are entitled to receive. Therefore, you will need to file a correct tax return in order to properly claim those tax breaks and minimize your tax assessment.
The IRS will send you a Notice of Deficiency CP3219N with a proposal of your tax assessment. This gives you 90 days to either file your overdue tax return or file a petition in Tax Court. If you do nothing, the IRS will proceed with the proposed tax assessment, which will trigger the collection process.
If an affected taxpayer allows enough time to pass without addressing these notices, it is very possible that the IRS will end up collecting far more than the taxpayer legally owed had he/she filed a correct tax return. Furthermore, if you are due a tax refund, you must file within 3 years of the return due date in order to receive your money.
Keep in mind, the statute of limitations involved may vary depending on certain factors, such as whether or not the taxpayer has filed a timely request for an extension of time to file (there is rarely an extension of time allowed to pay), when the IRS last credited a payment to the taxpayer’s account, and other conditions. So it is important to file a timely tax return each year, and/or file a tax extension request if you need more time to prepare your return.
IRS Notices for Overdue Payments
Another type of notice that is commonly issued by the IRS is a demand for payment. This can arise after a tax return was filed without full payment of the balance due, or if there’s an outstanding balance from a prior year’s return. It will also come up if the IRS matches a return with its supporting documents and determines that certain items have been reported incorrectly.
For example, the IRS may recalculate your income tax for a given year after determining that you neglected to report $300.00 of dividends from a mutual fund. The IRS will send you a proposed tax assessment indicating their findings. You should review the notice in detail and respond that it is fully correct, partially correct, or incorrect altogether — while providing evidence of your position. The IRS will process your response and then send you another letter indicating agreement or disagreement (and so on until the issue is resolved).
Unpaid taxes will trigger the IRS’ collection and enforcement process, which can include a tax lien and/or a tax levy. The IRS will start issuing notices that threaten to garnish your wages, levy your bank accounts, and seize your property if you do not pay.
At this stage, it may be in your best interest to hire a tax attorney or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to help represent your interests. Make sure that the representative you choose has sufficient experience and the right credentials to advocate your position. If the IRS has already sent your case to the Department of Justice for enforcing a Federal Tax Lien — by foreclosing on your home, for example — you will need an experienced tax attorney who specializes in litigating such matters.
How to Handle an IRS Tax Notice
If you receive an IRS notice in the mail, you should first determine the nature of the inquiry and the stated deadline for a response. It is often possible to get additional time to respond to a notice, and you might even be able to resolve the issue by simply calling the telephone number provided on the notice.
Disregarding an IRS letter or notice is never a good idea. If you are unable to resolve an issue with your IRS notice, it may be advisable to contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS). The TAS is “your voice at the IRS” — they focus on helping taxpayers who are stuck in the system, particularly those who have been unable to resolve their tax disputes using normal channels.
In each U.S. state, there is at least one Local Taxpayer Advocate who is independent of the IRS and reports directly to the National Taxpayer Advocate. You can call 1-877-777-4778 to find out whether TAS can help you with your case.
For more information, please see the full list of IRS Notices and Letters on the IRS.gov website.